interview by Michael McCarthy
If the sound of Kristin Kontrol’s voice seems familiar to you, there’s probably a very good reason for that. You see, prior to going solo, Kristin was Dee Dee, lead singer/songwriter of the popular rock band Dum Dum Girls. More recently, she decided to go back to using her real first name — Kristin — while adding the stage name Kontrol, perhaps because she’s in complete control of her sound now, or because it sounds cool, or looks cool, or all above the above. Could be something else entirely, too. What we can tell you for sure is that her superb debut solo album, X-Communicate, is a synthy treat if ever there was one. Just don’t expect pretty pink synthesizer sounds; Kristin’s is that of a dark, almost ominous variety. These are songs that play well during the day but, better still, make an exquisite soundtrack for listening to at night. Songs like “Skin Shed” and “Show Me,” the latter of which features some killer saxophone courtesy of one Danny Meyer, aren’t what we’d call brooding; they’re simply the sort of pop music you’d expect to hear in a dark, smoky club around midnight. Currently, she’s out on tour promoting her album as the opening act for Garbage and we couldn’t think of a better fit. Be sure to catch them when they hit your nearest city, but do listen to X-Communicate several times first so you can sing along, something Kristin’s songs all but demand you do. (Check out Garbage’s new album, Strange Little Birds, too!)
MM: Your press release makes it sound like Dum Dum Girls are officially broken up, but it stops short of actually saying that. Is the group officially over, permanently?
KK: You have to understand that while, yes, Dum Dum Girls is a band, it’s at its core, just my vehicle for songwriting. Musically it ran it course.
MM: Was it frightening to leave the Dum Dum Girls behind? Or were you confident that whatever you did next would be better (for lack of a better word)?
KK: I saw that DDG wouldn’t let me grow any further as an artist and that was more frightening than deciding to move on and establishing myself as an artist able to evolve and expand.
MM: You mention the radio on “What is Love.” How important was the radio when you were growing up? Do you still listen to much radio?
KK: I don’t actually, but the radio was a constant in my household. My mother got sick when I was in elementary school, and during that period I remember the radio was a sort of replacement for her company in the morning. To this day I turn the radio or television on and feel a little less lonely.
MM: What are your thoughts about streaming services? Are they the new radio? Do you use any of them? If so, which one(s)?
KK: I listen to Spotify sometimes and know a lot of people listen to me on it. I make a point to buy music directly from the artist as much as possible and I would encourage patrons of streaming services to do the same.
MM: “(Don’t) Wannabe” features a reverse guitar solo, according to the press release. Does this mean we’re hearing the guitar solo backwards, just to be sure I’m understanding that correctly? If so, how did you come up with that idea? Are there any other backwards things on the album?
KK: The reverse guitar solo is nothing new. It means playing a recorded solo in reverse. This used to be done by running the audio tape backwards while recording. “I’m Only Sleeping” by The Beatles was probably my first exposure to that. I took the lead I wrote for “(Don’t) Wannabe” and reversed it digitally than spliced it a bit so that it maintained the same melodic atmosphere as the original lead. I was listening to a lot of Michael Rother (of krautrock groups like Neu!) and when I played “(Don’t) Wannabe” for my producer Kurt Feldman he introduced me to Bill Nelson. As inspired by him, E bow is my current guitar hobby.
MM: When you wrote the songs on X-Communicate, where did you typically start them? Did you begin with a vocal melody, lyrics, a guitar chord – how did the magic usually happen?
KK: I usually have a lyrical refrain and build off that, but it’s a kinda fuzzy process. Often times I’m so wrapped up in the moment (which can last hours on end) that I’m not aware of the step-by-step process.
MM: You were inspired to write more songs after seeing Perfume Genius in concert. What in particular caused your epiphany?
KK: I just hadn’t found direction yet. Something about seeing the evolution of Perfume Genius live resonated. It wasn’t that I wanted to look or sound like it, but I wanted to cross the threshold and find my voice in the way it seemed Mike Hadreas had.
MM: I love the little harmonies in the background of “Drive the Night,” which remind me of The Beach Boys a bit. Are they among your influences?
KK: Maybe indirectly? I was definitely more tuned in to 90s R&B and Madonna.
MM: Are the vocals we hear in those harmonies all yours or did you have any background singers on the album?
KK: Juste moi.
MM: When you say you wrote 62 songs are you talking about music and lyrics or were most of them just lyrics and melodies or… just how fully shaped were those songs?
KK: Of the first 45 or rejects, at least 35 were fully demoed. Some I abandoned earlier than that.
MM: Do you plan to use any of the songs that didn’t make the album in the future?
KK: I salvaged bits and pieces for a few songs that did make X-Communicate. I’m just starting to pick over the rest now.
MM: The album was ultimately produced by Kurt Feldman and Andrew Miller. Did they co-produce the songs together or did you work on some with one of them and the others with the other? If you worked with them individually, who did which songs and how did their approach differ?
KK: They each produced songs individually. Kurt did “Show Me,” “White Street,” “(Don’t) Wannabe,” “X-Communicate,” “What Is Love,” and “Going Thru The Motions.” Andrew did “Skin Shed,” “Drive The Night,” “Face 2 Face,” and “Smoke Rings.”
MM: At the end of our interviews we always ask some random questions. Here are yours:
MM: What’s the most useful piece of advice you’ve ever been given? Who gave it to you?
KK: “Little risk, little reward” — Karen O
MM: What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
KK: Always work.
MM: What song is stuck in your head right now?
KK: “But You” by Blood Orange.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
KK: TLC’s first album on cassette.
JUL 7THUSkyway TheatreGarbage
JUL 8FRISumtur AmpitheatreGarbage
JUL 10SUNUptown TheatreGarbage
JUL 12TUEThe PageantGarbage
JUL 15FRIEgyptian RoomGarbage
JUL 16SATThe FillmoreGarbage
JUL 19TUEThe Mill and MineGarbage
JUL 20WEDRyman AuditoriumGarbage
JUL 25MONThe NationalGarbage
JUL 27WEDStarland BallroomGarbage
JUL 28THUHouse of BluesGarbage
JUL 30SATThe Fillmore
JUL 31SUNRams Head Live!Garbage
AUG 1MONCentral Park SummerStageGarbage
AUG 3WEDLincoln TheatreGarbage